THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
(Non)Accumulation of Wealth / The Racial Wealth Gap
WEEK IV / DAY III
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Scripture / Deuteronomy 15:12-15
If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.
Our History and Its Legacy
From Yes! Magazine, “Economists estimate that up to 80 percent of lifetime wealth accumulation depends on intergenerational transfers.” When your ancestors were denied the possibility of any sort of ownership whatsoever because they were owned under slavery, it makes it impossible to transfer wealth to your next generation. When slavery ended, the possibility of ownership became more plausible, but still next to impossible because of many restrictions of the law. Many “Black Codes were enacted to stop African-Americans from owning their own businesses” (Yes! Magazine). For instance, in 1870, if you were black, the business licensing fee just to start a business was $100 (a lot of money in those days) — if you were white, there were no fees at all.
Most wealth is accumulated and passed on through the transfer of housing and land. If for centuries you were unable to own a house or land, you have nothing to transfer. And then if for a century it was difficult to own a house because of mortgage restrictions based on your race, or if most of the housing that was available to you was of lesser value because of location or quality, you will have very little money to pass on to your children.
This has been the experience of black Americans. White Americans have had literally centuries of a head start to accumulate wealth and pass it on to the next generation. It was only the Fair Housing Act of 1969 that finally and legally made it the case that any property was available to any American. Black Americans have had very little time to take advantage of compound interest or rising property values, or retirement funds that grow over decades.
This leads to a Racial Wealth Gap. According to this report, in 2015 the median household income for a black household was $35,400, whereas for a white household it was $60,250. This may not seem like much, but the median wealth of those same households was $11,030 for a black family, compared to $134,230 for a white family. These statistics show that about 73% of white families own homes compared to 45% of black families, but the white homes have median values of $85,800 compared to $50,000 for a black family in 2011. In January 2016, the gap was even higher.
There are many reasons for these disparities today, but in significant part they go all the way back to slavery, on which our country was founded.
Reflect and Respond
To understand how this dynamic operated in the city of Chicago (as a common example), particularly related to housing, commit to reading in-depth Ta-Nehesi Coates’ landmark article in The Atlantic, The Case for Reparations. To see some things that can be done to address this gross inequality, see 10 Proposals for Eliminating the Racial Wealth Gap in Forbes Magazine.
And then, if you and your family are beneficiaries of the freedom to accumulate wealth for generations and generations in the United States, think about the difference this has made in your life and how you’ve been blessed by that freedom. Think about those whose lives are affected now because their ancestors didn’t enjoy that freedom. Is there any way you can take some of your benefit to try to make that right, even if it’s a token. Figure out the token, pray about how you might offer it, and if you’re led, offer it with great prayer that God would remove the racial wealth gap in our country.
Written by Bill Haley